Entering Kindergarten

This article originally appeared in the August issue of Indy’s Child Magazine. Pick up a copy today at your local Marsh supermarket, library or other community organization!

I remember my son’s first day of kindergarten. Wearing one of his many Star Wars shirts, he fearlessly entered his new classroom, running when he saw his buddies Trey and Caleb. Trey’s mom, Caleb’s mom and I, however, were a bit more anxious.

We talked about the big move from preschool to kindergarten.

Even though our boys stayed in the same school for both, they made a physical transition to the kindergarten area, and we knew there would be a bigger academic transition ahead for these little guys. Our boys were growing up and we could only hope we’d done enough at home to prepare them for the upcoming year.

The kindergarten teachers of our children were wonderfully loving and nurturing, and communicated well with us about their expectations and suggestions for improvement. I often wondered, though, what are the most common kindergarten transition issues teachers run into and what parents can do to help prevent them?

In one national study, researchers from the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina asked over 3,500 public school kindergarten teachers about the transition issues children faced. The classrooms ranged widely in terms of socioeconomic status, minority status and metropolitan status (rural, suburban, urban). The good news for parents is that, according to teachers’ experiences, 84% of children have successful or moderately successful entries into kindergarten. Many teachers, however, did report specific problems upon kindergarten entry, with difficulty following directions topping the list. Other problems included lack of academic skills, disorganized home environments and difficulty working independently. Schools with higher poverty and minority composition experienced a higher rate of these problems.

Here’s the thing. These are not just numbers and data. These kinds of statistics have this little trick of snowballing into bigger effects down the line. That is, children’s performance in kindergarten is related to success in later school years, and even post-school life.

What can we do as parents to help our children transition to and succeed in kindergarten?

Looking at the list of transition problems reported by kindergarten teachers, it comes down to the development of strong executive functioning skills prior to kindergarten entry. (For a review of executive functioning skills check out Dr. Jessica Beer’s article on the subject in the May issue of Indy’s Child.) Parents can help improve executive functioning skills at home by first providing a consistent, organized environment. (Easier said than done, right?!) You might do this by having a regular schedule every day and routines around daily occurrences such as bedtime. Other ways to improve executive functioning at home are to encourage age-appropriate turn-taking during conversations, limiting distractions like the television or iPad while playing with your child and playing games like “Simon Says” in which children must follow directions and wait their turn.

Another fantastic way to prepare for kindergarten is to enroll your child in a preschool that focuses on boosting executive functioning skills. This is a great time for Indiana families who might not have been able to afford quality preschool before: there is a new pilot program called the “On My Way to Pre-K Waiver.” Although applications are no longer being accepted for 2015, you can find more information for the On My Way to Pre-K Waiver on the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration Homepage.

And once your child enters kindergarten, you can trust you’ve done what you can to help your child with their transition. Now it’s time to focus on your own transition issues…

Cognitive psychologist Tonya Bergeson-Dana combines her real world experience as a mother with her professional training as a researcher to provide parents with a practical way to apply the most current findings in childhood development research to their everyday life. Tonya is also a co-founder of The Urban Chalkboard playcafe, and welcome questions and feedback from readers at [email protected].

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